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Tsilhqot'in Vow to 'Stand Ground' Against New Prosperity Mine at Taseko AGM

Behind doors closed even to media, Taseko Mines Ltd. boasted 2011 profits of $86.3 million Canadian [$83.1 million USD] at its annual general meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, on June 1. Outside, members of Tsilhqot'in First Nation continued their steadfast opposition to the company's New Prosperity Mine on their territory.

Tsilhqot'in were joined by allies from prominent aboriginal and environmental organizations, as well as indigenous opponents of Canadian mining companies throughout the Americas—all of whom declared that unbridled mining threatens their territories and way of life.

“It's a simple No,” said Marilyn Baptiste, chief of Xeni Gwet'in, the Tsilhqot'in band situated nearest the mine site. “Our land is not for sale. Our position has not changed and cannot change for the destruction of our lands, our waters and our way of life. Our wild rainbow trout has survived in that lake system for hundreds of years, as our people have. We will not, and cannot, agree to such destruction in the headwaters by Taseko.”

Concerns center around the mine's impact on Teztan Biny, or Fish Lake, and on hunting, fishing and harvesting by the Tsilhqot'in.

The proposed New Prosperity Mine—which the company says will yield 3.6 billion pounds of copper and 7.7 million ounces of gold—is undergoing a second environmental assessment process, after the company's initial plan was rejected in 2010. A decision is expected in November.

Media were barred from the company meeting, and requests for comment went unreturned. However, Taseko insisted its revised proposal mitigates environmental damage, according to speaking notes posted to the firm's website by President and Chief Executive Officer Russell Hallbauer.

“This project … holds exciting potential for the company's stakeholders, including shareholders and local communities,” Hallbauer wrote. “These revised plans address the environmental concerns identified in the original environmental assessment process, and importantly, includes the preservation of Fish Lake.”

Chief Joe Alphonse, tribal chairman of the Tsilhqot'in National Government, reiterated his nation's opposition to the mine, decrying what he said is a lack of meaningful consultation.

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“We're not opposed to development,” Alphonse said, “but this is not the way to do it.”

He found it especially egregious for Taseko to come back, with a plan that still destroys a pristine lake (though not the one in the original plan) after having been rejected on environmental grounds. Although Fish Lake would be saved, Little Fish Lake would be destroyed, according to the Georgia Straight.

“This is the first time in Canada that a mine has been approved a second time [after being rejected],” he said. “They've reloaded and they're coming back with a Conservative majority federally.”

Alphonse described Teztan Biny (Fish Lake) as a thriving ecosystem of vital importance.

“You can see the fish jumping out of Fish Lake, and wolf tracks, moose tracks,” he said. “We have the most consistent sockeye run in North America—the only run on the Fraser [River] that's still healthy.”

The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), representing British Columbia's First Nations, also voiced support. Its president, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, accused Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government of colluding with mining companies.

“We were shocked and appalled when we learned the Harper government and his cronies in the mining industry got a second kick at the can,” Phillip said. “The second proposal . . . is far more destructive.”

He buttressed support for the Tsilhqot'in First Nation.

“I know in my heart of hearts we're going to win this fight,” he said. “We're at a watershed moment in this country known as Canada. I believe this represents the beginning of a long, hot summer in B.C.”